California's Employment Development Department and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released California's March 2021 state jobs report last Friday. Statewide nonfarm employment grew by an estimated 119,600 in March, less than in February but more than any other month since June. The official unemployment rate fell from 8.5 percent in February to 8.3 percent in March, well below the peak of 16.0 percent last April at the height of the lockdown but still well above the pre-pandemic level of 3.9 percent last February. The survey reflects job changes through the week of March 7 to March 13. California accounted for 13.1 percent of the national estimate of 916,000 net jobs gained in March, slightly above its 11.5 percent of the nation’s total payroll jobs as of February 2020.
The figure below shows how employment has evolved in both the state and the nation since the start of the pandemic. Overall employment in the state as of the middle of March was 8.6 percent below the level of February 2020, considerably worse than the national figure of 5.5 percent. Nearly half of this 3.1 percentage point gap is attributable to the leisure and hospitality sector which includes restaurants, bars, and hotels. California leisure/hospitality employment continued to rebound from the sharp drops in December and January, although it remains below its November level. In contrast, national employment in the sector is now back above its November level. Aggregate employment in other sectors has recovered at the same slow pace in both the state and the rest of the nation for more than half a year now.
The next figure summarizes nonfarm employment by sector based on the monthly survey of employers. The leisure and hospitality sector discussed above accounted for about a third of the statewide net gain. The retail, professional/technical, and transport sectors also had significant gains, although only transport is above its level of a year ago.